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Muslim Rep. Ellison on the Pope

Speaking this week as Pope Benedict XVI visited the U.S., Congress' first Muslim lawmaker, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), declined to criticize the pontiff for his past comments about Islam and suggested that the continued "age-old exchange of ideas" between Catholics and Muslims was "a good thing."

Speaking to Sally Quinn as part of's "On Faith" feature, Ellison was diplomatic in responding to a question about Benedict's controversial 2006 citation of a quote that the prophet Muhammed brought "evil and inhuman" practices to life.

"I believe that the Pope is entitled to his opinion," Ellison said. "I will also say that the Pope has made some statements to try to remediate those comments."

Ellison, a Catholic before he converted to Islam, did say that he believed Benedict "definitely comes from a more conservative view of the role of the church ... and I think that those earlier comments reflected that. Pope John Paul [II] might not have said those kinds of things."

You can watch an excerpt of Ellison's interview below, and video of the full interview will be available online May 1:

By Ben Pershing  |  April 18, 2008; 11:40 AM ET
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I'm glad Rep. Ellison is available to make comments about the pope, but not so happy that there aren't more Muslims holding public office in this country. For a country that prides itself on its diversity, there is remarkably little in the world of politics. There are a few women, one Muslim, a handful of Latinos, but even after 230 years the government is still dominated by old white Protestant Christian men.

Posted by: Mary | April 21, 2008 10:48 AM | Report abuse

Mary's lament about the lack of diversity in political office holders is well founded. She should keep in mind,however, that these ladies and gentlemen are selected by the voters of their district or state and if a more diverse legislature is to become reality, those concerned must find electable candidates and then get out the vote.
The much maligned white Anglo-Saxon Protestant male seems to be the only demographic who votes consistently and who is, naturally, going to vote for someone of his own "kind".
Our form of democracy is participatory and if you don't get into the arena and compete, you can't win.
So Mary, find one of the sisters who wants to take the abuse and the self esteem draining job of Congressperson, get her name on the ballot and get out the vote. I hope you are successful.

Posted by: MSUgrad | April 21, 2008 2:37 PM | Report abuse

With all due respect to Rep. Ellison, the Pope has done nothing to remediate his earlier comments, nor should he have. He said nothing wrong and contributed to an important discussion.

To remediate is the act or process of correcting a fault or deficiency. Benedict's comments, when read in context, contained no faults or deficiencies.

The language in question came from a speech to academics at the University of Regensburg. The language in question was not the Pope's, and he never endorsed the content of the language in any way. The quote came from the citation of a historical discussion between fourteenth century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian of unknown name on the subject of Islam and Christianity. Taken within the full context of the speech, the discussion offered an examination into a historical debate but not an endorsement of the arguments within the debate.

The central argument of the Pope's speech was that religions of any type cannot legitimately spread their faith using force, but instead should be committed to convince of the fundamentals of their faith through the persuasion of reason and argument. If this is an argument that makes some uncomfortable, whether Muslims, Christian, or atheist, then the Pope ought continue the argument and maximize their discomfort. Those who would spread religion by force deserve no quarter in the intellectual debate.

Clearly, the argument, which was in no way an attack on Islam itself, did make some Muslims uncomfortable. In the Netherlands, Muslim neighborhoods rioted. In Egypt, Muslims held great protests in the streets. In Anbar, Christians and Christian Churches were attacked. Even in the United States, secular and Muslim leaders decried the Pope's comments. Many decent American Muslims prove that whatever theory might indicate, in practice, Muslims can live peacefully with members of other faiths. Perhaps American Islamic leaders would better serve Islam's reputation if they spent their energies condemning the very real problem of many Muslims around the world who see violence as a viable method of spreading their faith and punishing those who do not accept their beliefs.

Posted by: MAurelius | April 21, 2008 3:20 PM | Report abuse

If one is to fault the Pope's comments, one should claim that they did not go far enough. The Pope's speech made the legitimate argument that no religion should use violence to propagate the faith and that anyone who uses force to spread faith is wrong, whether Christian or Muslim. However, the Pope did not touch on deeper historical and moral issues. Primia facia, Christianity's founding provides the groundwork for a non-violent faith, where as Mohammed's actions, if justified, lend credibility to the use of violence, war, and terrorism to spread Islam. If this first appearance is not the case, it is incumbent on Muslim leaders to explain why the example of Mohammed no longer holds as a valid guide for Islam in the modern world.

The valid question to ask is whether Islam's foundation is compatible with peaceful coexistence with other faiths. Many faiths, including Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism, have blood on their collective hands. However, there is a difference between the founding of Christianity and Islam. A man who taught a message of non-violence and was indeed persecuted by men of power and force founded Christianity. Later Christians resorted to violence, but one can reasonably argue that they did so in spite of, not because of, the direct example of Jesus. Mohammed used military force to conquer and convert non-Muslims, and Mohammed's example is used as a moral authority in Islam.

It is not enough to say that many Muslims live peacefully with men of other faiths. Many, many modern Muslims do not, and from an outside understanding of their religion's early history, they appear to be the ones living in accordance with the example of the Prophet. If Mohammed's use of force was legitimate then, the burden is in Islamic leadership to explain to us why such force is no longer legitimate.

Posted by: FAHayek | April 21, 2008 3:39 PM | Report abuse

It says in the Koran, that non believers must convert or subvert. Pope Benedict was 100% right when he said that Isalm bruoght evil and inhuman the Koran , its all in there. I feel bad for Rep. Ellison and will pray for him.

Posted by: James B. NYC | April 21, 2008 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Those readers who commend "diversity" should be made aware that diversity is a tactic of Satan: it is otherwise known "as divide and conquer"!

Posted by: preacher | April 21, 2008 5:12 PM | Report abuse

there is no mosque in vatican City.

Posted by: Don M Las Vegas | April 21, 2008 9:21 PM | Report abuse

It says in the Koran, that non believers must convert or subvert. Well, I think Catholicism is very similar in its views. Unless you are a catholic christiam, you are lost. I ceased to exist when I left the church. Both views contradict what Jesus taught. Freedom of religion, and freedom from religion is what makes America great.

Posted by: Ralph B.-DC | April 22, 2008 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Muhamad's(PBUH) used of force was a self defence, he was being attacked from all corners of the world, just like how muslims are being attack now, remember He was driven from His birth place to an unknown place to Him and still attacked Him over there, what did you want him to do sit down and relax.

Remember America is attacking countries they "think" are aiding terrorist.

Posted by: Bai Abdou Mbye | April 22, 2008 11:12 AM | Report abuse

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